Antique Houmongi–Violet Roses

Deep Intense Purple Silk Adorned With Bright Roses And Peonies.

I think probably the fastest way to get me to spend money on something is to have it be just the right shades of purple. I’m not sure I’d call this one a restoration in fairness, but I would call it a shitshow an adventure in stain removal. Purple is one of those colors that is real fucking iffy about whether or not it wants to cooperate with me, which might also be a reason I’m drawn to it. I’m not happy unless I’m torturing myself I guess. I’ve found that the more formal and expensive looking a garment is, the less likely that purple dye is to be colorfast. Ain’t that some shit?

Colorfastness, for those of you playing the home game, is when a dye is set into a fabric or material in such a way that most washing solutions or even solvents aren’t likely to be bothersome. The color is considered to be permanent. Ever buy a bottle of carpet cleaner or furniture cleaner, and it tells you to test it on an inconspicuous area of whatever you’re trying to clean first? That’s why. Because there isn’t always accounting for the original manufacturer’s whimsical fuckery when it comes to getting that special color. And because I have a giant rod up my ass about this stuff: this should not, in this context, be confused with lightfastness–which is an element of colorfastness that refers a to a pigments ability to stand up to UV exposure.

Anyway. This is a piece I actually rather recently acquired, direct from Japan. They didn’t have any provenance on it more than “antique.” That sweet red lining and the use of gradients in the yuzen (resist dye technique to make those awesome plants) makes me think Taisho, because that shit was super popular then. But without provenance or a confirmed date, I get pretty hesitant to just slap a “Taisho” stamp all willy-nilly. This is because when you look at the length of the Meiji Era just before it and the Showa Era just after, the Taisho Era was very short. Something that I find to be delightful about art history is that while we like to slap eras and trend names on shit, people and craftsmen of their time were doing their own things. The Taisho Era ended on December the 25th, 1926. That means that December the 26th was the Showa Era. Wanna point to the hardcore trend differences that happened in that 24 hour period? No, it’s cool, I’ll wait.

The explosion of trends in the Taisho Era are very sought after, and so I feel the need to be careful about what I slap that label on. If I can’t say definitively, then I probably won’t. “Antique” works just fine in this context.

The good thing about buying from Japan is that they often are very clear about the condition of the item that they’re sending you. I knew what I was getting into when I made the decision to buy this one. It also saves my sorry ass one more time, because I just got to work taking out stains and didn’t take one single goddamn high-res before picture. Haha. Sometimes I just get excited and whip out the chemicals. But hey, their seller photos mean that I have before and after pictures for you anyway, and I’m actually okay with winning by technicality.

So I know my picture isn’t a great representation of what they’re pointing to. But they were pointing to something that looked worse but actually just chipped off with my fingernail. Actually, most of the big stains they warned me about on the purple areas of the body were just bits of gunk that could be scraped off or otherwise collected with something sticky. I used a lint roller. No problem.

You want to know what part was actually the one that fucked with me? You see that cute little white flower right above their comical yellow finger? Just north of it is a pale smudge. It didn’t scratch off, so I had to go at it with some actual skills. I have no idea what that was, but the instant it got wet, it smelled impressively horrifying. It let off a stench as though death and actual horse shit had a dirty baby, and then that baby rolled around in rotten garbage. And lemme tell you, I was not expecting that.

Happily, I was able to knock it out with about six rounds of vinegar and cursing at it.

So regular readers might remember that before the pandemic, I have been known to touch a stain to my tongue briefly to figure out what it is. And once again, I can’t stress enough that I do not recommend this, and that this is not the year to fuck around with that. I have identified all manner of sauces and other…ahem…fluids…in doing this. And as I’m you’re really hoping to find out at the end of this preparation statement, no: I actually did not attempt to taste the death stench stain. Sweet mother of god, am I glad I didn’t take a nice hard swig of Big Dumb Idiot Juice before getting started with this piece, because if it smelled that bad after hitting it with fucking vinegar, I don’t even want to think about what it might be, let alone what it might taste like.

But it’s dead now, and I’m not so moving on!

This is a part where the seller and I have a huge difference in opinion on what the worse stain was, but whatever. So I have taken the time to circle the three worst stains on the front panel here, and my results. Also, my lighting conditions are more true to life. This kimono is significantly warmer in color in person. I don’t hold a grudge about things like that. These dyes are notoriously difficult to photograph correctly.

So how did I get these out?

I started with the vinegar method that I detailed in this entry. That usually does pretty good work for me on most stains. It’s also pretty helpful at neutralizing odors, which turned out to be fucking necessary for this one. But there is a point where the vinegar visibly stops working, and then you have to decide if you want to try other things. Sometimes I don’t bother, because the stains are faded enough that you have to be close enough to justify the use of bear mace in order to see them. Other times, you can get a bit aggressive.

I got the stain out of the white, orange lined peony with fucking butane.

That’s right, you can actually remove some stains with the right kind of lighter fluid. I’m still wishy-washy on whether or not I want to do a tutorial involving that one. I love a good fire hazard as much as the next guy, but when materials go from being annoying to actually volatile, I clam up. It’s really hard for me to say, “HEY KIDS. WANNA POUR LIGHTER FLUID ON YOUR FUCKING KIMONOS?”

Although, if you were going to hear it from anyone, it would probably be from me. We’ll see.

So now she’s clean and sturdy as hell. A silk houmongi (semi-formal kimono) from at least the early Showa Era, in deep delicious purple. The patterns are resist dyed and then painted (yuzen), and they are bara (roses), botan (peony), kiku (chrysanthemums), and tachibana (citrus), with little buds and foliage from those plants scattered within. There is a little bit of soft embroidery to embellish some of the flowers, as well as gold couching–which I did not have to repair. The silk is also rinzu (woven patterns) with the same flowers that are painted throughout. On the back, she sports one single tsuta (ivy) kamon (family crest) that was embroidered on with urushi (lacquer) threads, so it sparkles a bit. She’s a fantastic work of art from her time, and I’m glad to have her in my collection.

I’m about out of things to say now.


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